HC Deb 28 July 1961 vol 645 cc791-817

(1) After the commencement of this Act, no turnstile shall be installed as a means of access to, or to any part of, a public sanitary convenience provided by a county council or local authority under section eighty-seven of the Public Health Act, 1936, or any enactment reproduced by that section.

(2) Where, at the commencement of this Act, access to, or to any part of, a public sanitary convenience provided as aforesaid, and under the management of a county council or local authority, is obtained by means of a turnstile, the county council or local authority shall before the expiration of twelve months from the commencement a this Act substitute some other means of access.—[Mrs. McLaughlin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The object of this proposed new Clause is to try to remove what has been a long-standing annoyance to women, namely, having to pass through a turnstile before being able to use a public lavatory. This matter has been discussed by many women's organisations throughout the country. Over the past nine years they have tried to get something done about it by approaching various local authorities. They have come up against a blank wall. This matter has led to a great disturbance and a considerable amount of feeling among women.

It is often forgotten that women who are out shopping and carrying baskets and having to take, perhaps, children by the hand are not in any better position than elderly women, than those who are feeble, incapacitated or infirm. They are all equal in deserving a certain amount of decent respect and they do not get it because of the way in which public conveniences are organised for them.

Anyone who has looked at these turnstiles—I have looked at some of them over the last few weeks—will realise just how stupid they are. They could only have been designed by a man with no idea of the needs and number of women who would use these turnstiles and the amount of difficulty which they would cause. It seems that local authorities are determined to get their money's worth out of the needs of women and, obviously, they regard turnstiles as a source of revenue. Pressure by women's organisations up to date has not seemed to get across to local authorities the need for removing these turnstiles and for providing other means of access and exit. The new Clause is designed to make it illegal for local authorities to install turnstiles in women's public lavatories and to provide that within twelve months of the Bill becoming law they shall have to remove all existing turnstiles.

My own daughter told me last week that she had to go to the rescue of an elderly lady who was in difficulties at one of these turnstiles in London. She probably knows more about the problem than the average youngster because she knows about the discussion which has been going on. However, she was extremely distressed to see this elderly lady in difficulties. She had caught her handbag and was unable to extricate it herself without someone else putting another penny in and turning the turnstile thus enabling the handbag to be removed.

I know that the Minister has agreed to meet a delegation on this matter and that this afternoon he will hear their various points of view. I know that in answer to a Question earlier this week he said that he wished to wait and hear its views. I hope that today the Parliamentary Secretary will not merely say that he will give sympathetic consideration to this point, but will accept the new Clause even though I admit that it is a blunderbuss way of bringing about what is desired. But we have to use the methods which are available to us, and this new Clause certainly covers the point.

I hope that if the Parliamentary Secretary says that he cannot accept this proposal he will tell us the reasons why. If he does accept it, of course the difficulty will be resolved. But it is a bad thing to try women's patience too long. This problem has tried their patience for a very long time. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary knows a good deal about women and will, therefore, realise that they are very persistent when they feel there is something which ought to be put right. Their persistence will continue until this matter is put right. If he accepts the new Clause the difficulty will be solved. There is no doubt that women are being treated as pennyworths in the country. They should be treated with much greater respect.

In view of the discussion in the House earlier in the week and on previous occasions, and since there is a Bill dealing with this subject on the Order Paper for Second Reading today, I shall say no more except that this new Clause is designed to do something to remedy a grave injustice which is being suffered by women.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

I have very great pleasure in seconding the proposed new Clause. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary appreciates the significance of the all-party support which is given to it. The united front presented by women Members across the Floor of the Committee on this matter echoes the sentiments of a letter which I received from a woman in Devon with the heart-cry. "Women of the western world unite. You have nothing to lose but your cages."

I am delighted that the Bill gives us the opportunity of taking action in accordance with the principle and purpose of the Private Members' Bill which I introduced last week and to which the House gave unanimous support. As the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate, in the normal way a private Member in introducing a Measure, even if there is no opposition to it in the House, has difficulty in getting time to enable it to go through. I think that it was, in the words of my pious mother-in-law, intended that this proposal should become law, since it came so quickly on the heels of the Measure which was accepted by the House last week. Therefore, we want action and not merely words this morning.

The issue is perfectly clear. It is that the installation of turnstiles in public lavatories is not something which is just one of those little gimmicks to which women object because it is inconvenient. It is a practice that is so dangerous that it cannot be left to the permissive powers of local authorities to decide whether turnstiles should be used in public conveniences.

As I understand the law, the control over the internal design of public lavatories is within the discretion of local authorities. Therefore, some legislative step must be taken if every turnstile is to be removed from public conveniences.

Because of the massive evidence which I believe has been pouring in to all hon. Members since this matter was ventilated, I urge most seriously that we cannot lose any more time in getting this matter dealt with. The danger to many people from these mechanisms is so great that Parliament must make this obligatory upon local authorities. We cannot wait for the slower processes of democratic pressure on hundreds of local authorities throughout the land, some of which will be responsive and others will not.

I can prove that I am not exaggerating when I read a letter which I received following the introduction of my Bill. A lady in Surrey wrote to me to say that the reports of our recent debate on the matter had brought a sad memory to her. She said: My sister tried to free an old lady who was caught up in a turnstile at Felbridge, near East Grinstead. After she was finally released, the iron bars jerked backwards one of which hit my sister across the eyes. From this injury, she died the same evening. Other letters speak of physical injuries to young children. One speaks of an experience that the writer had in Blackpool on 5th July this year and states: While waiting to go through the turnstile, a woman with a small child about five years old was going, through when the little girl caught her fingers in the mechanism. When the fingers were eventually removed, two of her fingernails were hanging off and both fingers had large black blisters. The mother was in such a state that she could not do anything. I administered first-aid as much as I could and sent her along to the ambulance station, where the two fingernails were removed. Another letter speaks of a mother with a slightly mentally deficient daughter who screamed pitifully when the mother had to try to compel her to go through the turnstile to the toilet. Another is from a teacher at Beckenham who had to take a party of eighty-five small girls on a visit to Windsor. She said: As far as we could ascertain, all the conveniences provided by the local authorities in the town are of this type. Many of the little girls were frightened of the spikes and they are so close together that it is quite impossible for an adult to accompany the children through. Another letter is from a nurse with gynaecological experience warning Parliament most solemnly of the danger to pregnant women by barring the way to conveniences by means of mechanisms which are quite impossible for them to negotiate.

We all know, too, that apart from the question of young children, elderly people and pregnant women, there is case after case of the mechanical failure of these turnstiles. I have over a hundred letters which have come in since I introduced my Bill giving examples of people who were trapped on the other side of one of these cages. As one woman said, If my daughter had not been on the other side and able to go for the police. I might have been ill or have died before anybody became aware of it. The House of Commons cannot simply shrug off this kind of evidence and say that we should like just a nice little debate this morning and then leave it to the Minister to give us his usual reply. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not give us the reply that his right hon. Friend the Minister sent to one of my correspondents who wrote to him about this matter some time ago and was told to contact the councils. I have also a sheaf of evidence from women's organisations who have tried the job of contacting the councils. It may be that they have succeeded in one case only to find that they have failed in another.

11.45 a.m.

One woman said that she had battled for years in Lincoln to get the local council to remove the turnstiles. She said that as a result of her efforts, the turnstile was taken out of the Ladies at St. Peter-at-Arches, but when new ones were erected at South Park, in went the turnstile". Other women's organisations say the same. From Guildford, for example, the members of the Women's Cooperative Guild tell me that they have battled for years to get these turnstiles removed. Other women's organisations joined in and at last they got the turnstile removed from the main bus station —"of all places", says my correspondent in parentheses—but they protested about other turnstiles in the town, so far in vain. Here again, I could give massive evidence.

I will give one example which is greatly relevant to this discussion. It is from the Urban District Council of Ash-bourne, in Derbyshire, whose official notice outside the turnstile I quoted in the discussion last week. It received publicity and the Press approached Mrs. Doris Grimshaw, the only woman mem- ber of the Ashbourne Urban District Council. She leapt to the defence of the turnstile and said that both the turnstile and the notice were put there for very good reasons. She said, almost with pride, "It cost us £300 to put up that turnstile and it saved us locks on six lavatory doors inside". She made the point that the people who use the turnstile and the lavatory are mostly visitors to the Ashbourne district. "Why", she asked," should we have to put this cost on the rates unless and until other local authorities are compelled to do the same?"

What she does not realise is that the people from her area are among those who travel the country and send in complaints about the turnstiles in Blackpool, Lincoln or elsewhere. This proves that we ought not to deal with this matter on a local basis. It has now become a matter for national action, and for urgent national action.

I had it pointed out to me that St. Neots, for example, has just built a marvellous new public convenience. I believe that the town is proud of it. It won an honourable mention in the Architectural Review for being one of the smartest-looking modern public conveniences in the country. But what do the users of it write to me to say? First, they tell me that although the men walk in on the ground floor level, the women have to climb a steep flight of steps. Some of them are elderly women with rheumatic hearts and some of them are pregnant. Having got to the top of the steps, they find that there is a wonderful new turnstile from top to bottom of the conveniences. Complaints have come to me about this lavatory showing that the women would far rather have one which was less architecturally brilliant and one which more readily met their needs.

Therefore, we say this morning that we want this action taken at this the first opportunity that is now so fortunately available to us. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary not to say that he must wait until his right hon. Friend has seen the deputation from the National Council of Women this afternoon. The arguments that all the women Members in the House of Commons on both sides are putting to the hon. Gentleman this morning are those that the National Council of Women has asked us to put. The Council backed my Bill, it backs the Clause and if there is any point in the Minister seeing the deputation at all, he will carry out its wishes by accepting this Clause today.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I add my support to this new Clause. I am delighted that it has attracted uniform support from both sides of the House. It is often said that women in Parliament do not join together in support of any cause whatsoever. At any rate, this debate today will disprove that allegation.

When the National Council of Women wrote, as they did, explaining to all of us the difficulty which they were up against with the local authorities, each hon. Member took his or her own course to try to find a solution. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) very cleverly introduced her Ten Minutes Rule Bill, which, I think, was a great success. It drew the attention of the country to this matter, and the fact that she has had so much correspondence, and so much support, should be a reassurance to my right hon. Friend the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary that this is, in fact, something that the women of the country, in the main, most wholeheartedly desire. Several hon. Members wrote to the Minister and I hope that today we shall hear that action will follow.

First, I should like to say to the Parliamentary Secretary that I assume, because he is a most sympathetic Minister and a most competent Parliamentary performer, as everyone agrees, that he would wish to support the principle of this new Clause. He cannot possibly disagree with any of the arguments put forward by hon. Members supporting the Clause and, indeed, supporting the Bill that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn introduced last week.

I emphasise that there can be no reason at all why a disabled woman should be at a disadvantage compared with a disabled man, or why a spastic girl or a young woman should be at a disadvantage compared with a spastic boy or young man. There can be no reason for this discrimination. The point is that a great many local authorities have not embarked on the turnstile method. It is, therefore, absolutely urgent that action should be taken now, or at any rate that the Minister's decision should be given quite clearly, so that no local authority should be under any misapprehension as to the views both of the Minister and of the House of Commons on this matter. I assume, and I am sure that I am right, that the Parliamentary Secretary is 100 per cent. behind this new Clause and the speeches and evidence that have been put in favour of it.

I go one step further. It is true that when the National Council of Women made its approach to the Minister he said that it should make its representations, in the first place, to the local authorities. I want to know whether the Minister, at that stage or, indeed, before that stage, got in touch with the Minister of Health. I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is here today. This is not only a matter for the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It is also a matter for the Minister of Health.

I want to say how much I personally —and I am sure that all my colleagues feel the same—welcome the really humane approach of the new Minister of Health to some of the problems which arise through people being handicapped, who have to go to hospital, or who are elderly. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has said that we have humanised the treatment of those suffering from ailments, disablements, or sickness. I want to be sure, because I have a very shrewd suspicion that there is far too little co-ordination between Government Departments, that this is not only a matter for the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but also for the Minister of Health.

I should like to know whether the Minister of Housing and Local Government, before he gave his advice to the National Council of Women, got in touch with the Minister of Health to find out his views on this matter. Further, I should like to know whether, within a short time of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn introducing her Ten Minutes Rule Bill, the Minister of Health was on the telephone to the Minister of Housing and Local Government to say that it was really quite intolerable that there should be any delay in the introduction of a Bill of this kind.

It is very important that we should know that, considering how much hardship and suffering are caused through disablement, to the war disabled, to spastics, to the elderly, and to pregnant women. There is an immense amount of information on this available in the Ministry of Health, and if the Minister of Housing and Local Government feels in any difficulty about dealing with the local authorities he might draw in great support from the Minister of Health.

When my hon. Friend replies—I do not know whether we are to have replies from both Parliamentary Secretaries; I sometimes think that I should like to create a new precedent and have two replies instead of one—I do not want him, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to say that health questions have nothing to do with him because they belong to the Ministry of Health. So perhaps we may hear from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health how she and her right hon. Friend view this very important matter.

I fully understand, as do those of us associated with Parliamentary and local government, that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government must, when any proposed legislation impinges on local government, consult local government. That is quite understandable. I want to know whether there is any real objection to a Minister giving guidance in public, not in private, because part of all this righting of injustice and dealing with problems of this kind arise from the difficulty of ascertaining what is the public view. The public are very wise in their generation. When they find a Minister taking action to put to the country what a problem really is, we get, as the hon. Member for Blackburn has found out, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) has found out in introducing this new Clause, evidence pouring in. So I can see no objection to the Minister of Housing and Local Government announcing to the country that he considers this to be a matter that should be immediately dealt with by the local authorities concerned.

12 noon.

Surely the responsibility of a Minister is not just to consult behind closed doors. I have never found any difficulty in my life, and I hope I shall never find any difficulty in future, about expressing a view or hearing views. I do not expect everybody to agree with me. I sometimes make the most outrageous and ill-informed statements, but I think that the people of this country do prefer somebody who will speak out to consultations going on behind closed doors, or to Ministers saying that they cannot say anything in case they offend somebody.

We cannot wait on that kind of thing in the year 1961, and for the life of me I really cannot see, whatever may be the fate of this Clause today, why the Minister of Housing and Local Government should be in any difficulty about pointing out to the County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations what are his views. And, as I have said, of course the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who has had such a wide experience of local government, is bound also to consider the view that we are expressing in the House today. If the local authorities have not come to a wise conclusion, why cannot the Minister of Housing tell them?

I have in my County Borough of Tynemouth a first-class local authority. I may say that we do not have turnstiles. It is a first-class local authority. I tell it exactly what I think, and it tells me what it thinks. We do not always agree. It does not always agree with me, I do not always agree with it, but we have a mutual respect for each other, and my local authority would regret it very much if I did not express a view, in the same way that I would regret it if it did not express a view.

I must say that I find it quite ridiculous that a Minister of the State, on a subject of this kind, on which we all feel very strongly indeed, cannot say publicly that he thinks the local authorities ought to act in this manner, and I hope that that is what he is going to do.

I am a vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and when I hear what happens to this Clause today I intend to write to Sir Harold Banwell and tell him how astonished I was to hear that there had been any objection on the part of the Association to dealing with a very important matter which affects women everywhere. I hope that the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Health will find time to go to the Association of Municipal Corporations, because I do not think that it harms Ministers to leave their Departments and meet ordinary people. I hope that they will go round making it quite clear to the Association of Municipal Corporations what the House of Commons thinks on this matter, because I am sure there will not be any opposition to the new Clause.

If my hon. Friend cannot give a categorical assurance today that he will accept this new Clause, then I hope that we shall have a categorical assurance that a place will be found next Session, far such a piece of legislation, so that we shall be in no doubt whatsoever that OUT will is to prevail.

Quite often from time to time we women Members of Parliament on this side of the House—and I dare say that women Members on the other side of the House have done the same—have discussed what sort of things we should like to see in the Queen's Speech, and from time to time, on this side of the House at any rate, we have informed those whose job it is to prepare the Queen's Speech that we should occasionally like to see in it something which particularly affects the women. Here is a great opportunity.

I do not want to put a pistol to the head of my hon. Friend, but the local authorities, I think, have behaved abominably. I do not believe that they have ever had this case put to them by their associations. It is about time that the ordinary local authorities, on which a great number of very good men and women are serving, ought to have from their various associations information about what has happened over this question.

At any rate, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept the new Clause, but if he feels a little nervous because he gets opposition from the Association of Municipal Corporations, and he wants to be surrounded by women Members of Parliament to give him support, and he feels a little nervous because the House is going into recess, I hope that we can have an absolutely firm under- taking—and that it will be put forward to the Prime Minister—that in the next Queen's Speech a place will be found for this piece of legislation, which, I think, is fair and just and what the women of the country are entitled to expect.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I was delighted to hear the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) particularly as she is a vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporations. As I have that honour too, it is rather fitting that I follow her. I agree with everything she said—except one thing: I am a little more impatient about this matter than she is and I would rather not wait till next Session.

Dame Irene Ward

One must give the Prime Minister a let-out.

Dr. Stross

That I understand. I know the courage and tenacity of the hon. Lady, and I know she agrees with me when I say that this abominable practice has really gone on long enough.

I think the men in the country—and I include myself, of course—have all been guilty in that it has not been thought about by them, but I would particularly blame men like myself, medical men, for not having taken steps, but having waited for women themselves to complain about it. If the problem is examined on medical grounds then it is utterly true that this is a matter of pure health, and on health grounds turnstiles should be abolished immediately.

There can be no defence of them. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) the letters she has had about women in advanced states of pregnancy, women who are elderly, young nervous children, and people who are crippled, all of whom have great difficulty in attempting to go through these contraptions.

I do not know how long they have existed. The first reference I have found to turnstiles in the literature is at a date in 1643. I do not think that there was any piece of automatic machinery at that time. I believe that in the main a turnstile was used rather to let people go through and to keep cattle out. Now we use turnstiles in order to make women suffer as much inconvenience as possible for the sake of some problematical revenue, a revenue which can just as easily be obtained, and is obtained, by having closed doors and putting coins in small attachments on the doors.

I do not think women mind so much that they have to find a coin, although that is bad enough and inconvenient enough. Anyone who is married and has been married for some time knows very well that whenever his wife, when they are out together, puts her hand out he does not have to ask what it is she wants, but puts his hand in his pocket and takes out a penny. We all know that women do not go carrying pennies necessarily with them. If they are going about with children they may need more than one penny; they may need two or three or four pennies. Very inconvenient it is indeed. However, I am not interested so much in the financial part of the problem.

It is not only in pregnancy that we get what I can only call an assault upon women, but many women when they have had children must find relief urgently, often without notice or at least at very short notice, and they require a convenience of this type. It is a physical problem. Why should they be subjected to bars of this description? It is grossly improper that women should be penalised and should be treated as if they were second-rate citizens. There is a feeling of that kind about it.

I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government can remember what it was like to go through a turnstile like that for the first time when he was a little boy. I can remember. One felt very nervous and I was certainly not a spastic or a cripple. I was just a child. When at the age of about 7 I had to go through these things and had to push with all my strength it was unpleasant. Of course when no one was looking I climbed over them.

The Parliamentary Secretary should accept the Clause and should not say merely that the matter will be sympathetically considered. His association with local authorities makes him answerable to us on the matter. It is right that that should be so, but we are all glad to see the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health sitting on the Front Bench opposite and taking note. I am sure that if she had to answer it would be impossible for her to rebut our pleas on the ground of health, and I am largely speaking as a medical man today. I came to the House to do so and to add my voice to the representations which have already been made on this matter. I feel strongly about it and I also feel rather guilty about it, because men should have been bringing this matter forward and not the women, and certainly medical men. On their behalf I apologise and say that if I can do anything today by action rather than speech I shall be glad to do it.

Mr. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

May a second male voice be added in support of the Clause? I sincerely congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) on putting the Clause on the Notice Paper and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on having introduced a Bill last week which has drawn such a great measure of public attention to this matter.

Perhaps I have a little right to speak on behalf of this proposal, because I fought my first election fifty-two years ago on the issue of free lavatories for women. It was on my twenty-first birthday and I was a candidate for the Finsbury Borough Council. I was defeated by 30 votes, but that has not deterred me on this issue.

The thing that has impressed me both in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, when she introduced her Bill, and in the debate today, is how taboos have been removed. When I first raised this issue it was almost regarded as indecent that a young man should refer to these things. I remember that at that time Mr. Bernard Shaw wrote an article in one of the quarterly magazines on "The Unmentionable Case for Woman Suffrage" and that unmentionable case was that women should have equality with men in the provision of lavatories and toilets. I hope that the day will come when the phrase "spend a penny" will be as irrelevant as "Who goes home?" is in this House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said that as the result of publicity given last week to her Bill all hon. Members had received considerable correspondence. That certainly has been my experience. The Slough and District Branch of the National Council of Women, whose secretary lives in Windsor and who is very well aware of the cruel mechanisation of women's lavatories in that royal borough, has written in the strongest terms pointing out how women with children, old women, invalids, crippled women and pregnant women suffer from the present arrangements.

The evidence submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn shows that this is not only a cruel institution, but is a dangerous one as well. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) in urging the Parliamentary Secretary Ito regard this as an S.O.S. and not a matter to be deferred. It seems to me to be such an outrage that the Government, for once, should break with precedent and should agree to accept the Clause.

12.15 p.m.

I notice that there is no sex discrimination in the new Clause and I want to make a plea on behalf of the men as well. There are men's lavatories in which these turnstiles are placed. There is one at Paddington Station, and I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to agree that he will make a plea to British Railways to abolish turnstiles not only in the women's lavatories, but also in the men's lavatories in railway stations. I have seen in the men's lavatories at Paddington Station disabled men finding the greatest difficulty in navigating the mechanism of those turnstiles.

I earnestly plead with the Parliamentary Secretary to accept the Clause and to realise the depth of feeling there is about this subject. This afternoon, he is to receive a deputation from the National Council of Women. What better news could he give to them than that he has accepted the Clause? I want at the very least to say to him that he ought not to allow next week to pass, before we adjourn for the Recess, without informing the House of what he has been able to tell the National Council of Women.

I join in trying to express what I know is the unanimous opinion of the House that this outrage ought to be ended and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that the Government are prepared to end it.

Sir K. Joseph

I hope that the Committee will allow me, before I deal with the arguments which have been put forward, to draw one general conclusion from this whole episode, because I think there is a lesson for all of us in it. My right hon. Friend, the Minister, has had a number of representations. He has been approached by women's organisations and he has advised them to get in touch, in the first place, with local authorities. But until very recently neither he, nor, I suspect hon. Members, have been bombarded as they are now being with examples of the ill effects of this sort of installation. Yet the impression that I get from the speeches of hon. Members is that there have been for years deep-seated individual grievances all over the country and that many thousands of citizens have been drawing dreadful comparisons between "we" and "they" and saying, "If only 'they' would do something about it," and yet "they" probably did not know of the grievance.

I pay a warm tribute to all the women's organisations which have canalised these grievances and brought them so publicly to the attention of all of us. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) and the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) for their interest in the matter and to all the other hon. Members who have spoken and taken an interest in it. I see a number of other hon. Members present who are particularly interested in it. It would be uncharitable if I did not pay a special tribute to the "pioneer," the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), who was fighting this fight before many of us were born.

There is no doubt whatsoever in my right hon. Friend's mind that this subject arouses strong feelings and must be dealt with with the maximum seriousness and speed compatible with the proper consideration of the implications of whatever is done. We have to ensure that the action that is taken is effective and not ill-considered. My right hon. Friend is, as the Committee knows, this afternoon receiving a deputation of women's organisations.

I think I ought to make plain that local authorities are not bound to provide public lavatories at all. They are given a discretion to do so. They have a discretionary power under the Public Health Act and whether they do so or not, and how, if they do so, they do it, are entirely matters between them and their ratepayers. My right hon. Friend comes into the picture only when the local authority needs loan sanction to provide a public lavatory, and it has not been his practice to give local authorities directions on such occasions as to details of internal design and equipment.

One has always to balance the need to guide local authorities with the need to treat them as responsibile organisations composed of responsible human beings who do not welcome interference in every detail from Whitehall. I can also speak for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in explaining that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health does not have direct powers in this matter either. Of course, there is consultation the whole while between my right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Health, as there was in this matter, too, and when the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn introduced her Bill.

But it appears now—now that all the evidence is pouring in—that there may well be need for guidance to local authorities, if no more, and this is why we have every reason to be grateful to the organisations and the hon. Members who have raised the whole subject. I am not going to pick up individual parts of the speeches that have been made. I thought all of them were strong, and all of them added to my right hon. Friend's reasons to think that something needs to be done.

However, I should particularly like to associate myself with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) in stressing the implications of these turnstiles for disabled people. We have all taken the points about pregnant women and women who for health reasons need quick recourse to public lavatories, but the point about the disabled adds to the argument very strongly.

Hon. Members have concentrated on putting the point of view of users of the lavatories—and quite right, too—but it would be lacking in courage on my part if I did not point out that there must be another side to the picture. After all, local authorities have women sitting on them. Local authorities have taken decisions in many cases to have these turnstiles, and they must be assumed to have decided to do so for certain reasons. I will not say that all the reasons were, perhaps, adequate, but there must be sound reasons when a public lavatory is put up. The local authority has to make sure that arrangements are made to secure decency, privacy and cleanliness. There are various ways of guaranteeing these proper objectives, and in some of them turnstiles can play a proper part.

Dr. Stross

I think that the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that one of the reasons why this matter has not been handled by local authorities at their level is probably due to this strange feeling of false modesty from which all of us suffer. Normally, it is no use asking women who are members of local authorities to raise the issue with men present. That is one of the reasons why it has not been done.

Sir K. Joseph

I think that may very well be true, but I think that the taboos, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said, are disappearing rather rapidly.

The new Clause and the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Blackburn would tear down these turnstiles regardless—regardless of the reasons for which they were put there, regardless of the implications for decency, privacy and cleanliness and regardless of the arrangements that would have to be made to secure decency, privacy and cleanliness if the existing arrangements, which in some cases include turnstiles, were obliterated.

Mrs. Castle

is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a contradiction in the arguments of the local authorities here? On the one hand, some of them tell the women's organisations that they put up turnstiles because that enables them to dispense with the services of an attendant. In so far as they do that the considerations of decency, hygiene and health are not safeguarded. My complaint is that lavatories with turnstiles but no attendant are neglected and filthy. I can send the hon. Gentleman fifty letters to that effect. Also, many local authorities put a turnstile in a lavatory and have an attendant there, and, therefore, they are not saving money, which they said was the purpose of putting up the turnstile.

Sir K. Joseph

I listened to the hon. Lady's speech, but I do not think that she brought out the very important point that she is now making, that often turnstiles coincide with lack of cleanliness. That is a very important point in connection with what I shall come to in a moment, and I think it will help us.

But I am not espousing the case of the local authorities. What I am saying is that we must give them a chance to make their views known. If we were to accept the Clause we should require a great deal of work to be done and a considerable expense would fall on ratepayers, and it seems only reasonable—after all, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has waited fifty years for this apotheosis—-that I should suggest that we might have to wait another few months. This, in sum, is what my right hon. Friend proposes that he should do.

My right hon. Friend will urgently—when I say "urgently" I mean within the next fortnight—send out to local authorities a detailed questionnaire asking them to give details of those cases where they have turnstiles, why they have turnstiles and what would be involved if the turnstiles were torn out. My right hon. Friend will seek to discover from the local authorities all the snags he would meet in following up the suggestion made by the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend in putting forward the Bill and the new Clause. He will then consider the matter in an urgent sense when he gets the returns—we must remember that the summer holidays are upon us, and they affect returns from local authorities as they would the work which would have to be carried out if the new Clause were accepted—and see whether there is any advice or guidance that he should give to local authorities.

If my right hon. Friend decides that there is some advice or guidance that he should give, or if he decides that there is some action that should be taken, he will then seek the co-operation of local authorities urgently in securing that action, and only if action is necessary and he cannot get their co-operation will there be any need for or question of legislation.

12.30 p.m.

Hon. Members might say, if I finish at this point, that they would have continually to prod my right hon. Friend to get the answers, and that action would be deferred indefinitely. But I want to reassure them at once that my right hon. Friend will get this information from the local authorities as soon as possible. He will study it as soon as possible, and he undertakes to make a further statement to the House itself by the end of this year at the latest.

Mrs. Castle

Too long.

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Lady must realise that the holiday season is upon us, that local authorities will get the questionnaire within a fortnight, that they must reply in considerable detail, and that, some time in September or early October, my right hon. Friend will study the results of the questionnaire. It is not giving him very much time if he guarantees to make a statement to the House by the end of the year. He will try to do it earlier, but I do not want to raise false hopes.

Mrs. Castle

If the right hon. Gentleman accepted this Clause, these turnstiles would all be abolished by the end of twelve months. We have been kept waiting for fifty years and we are not prepared to wait another five years.

Sir K. Joseph

But the hon. Lady is herself prepared to wait twelve months, and to do that she is suggesting that my right hon. Friend, should make a sledgehammer attack on the problem, without giving the local authorities a chance to make their views known, without studying the implications involved, and without making sure that we get decency, privacy and cleanliness at the end of the operation. It may well be that his advice to local authorities will secure a substantial improvement within twelve months

There is a part of the new Clause where I can be more helpful. Subsection (1) says that … no turnstile shall be installed … following the passage of this Bill. I suggest that there is no need to legislate for that purpose. My right hon. Friend undertakes that, pending the results of his study, he will ask that no local authority shall install a turnstile in any new scheme, so, at least to that extent, I can give the Committee the satisfaction it requires. I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn will pack up in a parcel all the letters and evidence she has and send it to me or to my right hon. Friend as soon as she can. I hope that other hon. Members with detailed evidence will send it to us as soon as possible, since it will help us considerably.

Finally, I must give a negative answer at this stage to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, who asked about British Railways. I cannot answer for British Railways at this Box, but I will pass on what he has said to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport as soon as possible.

In view of the programme which my right hon. Friend is willing to undertake and the detailed study which he will ensure will be given to this problem by the local authorities and the Government, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West will be prepared to withdraw the Clause.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he give an undertaking—since I do not see a representative from the Scottish Office here—closely to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland, because women in Scotland are just as reluctant to pay a penny—perhaps more so—than are English women? If we are to have turnstiles in Scotland when they have been abolished in England, I cannot answer for the consequences. Will he, therefore, undertake to consult the Secretary of State with a view to having them abolished throughout the United Kingdom?

Sir K. Joseph

indicated assent.

Mrs. McLaughlin

I have listened with care to what my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said, and while naturally I feel disappointed that he is unable to accept the Clause, nevertheless his assurance that the Minister will ensure that no new turnstiles are installed pending the result of the inquiry is at least helpful.

I am, however, disturbed when I think of the term "end of the year". It is a long time to wait until the end of the year, despite the holidays and despite the fact that it is so difficult to gather information from the local authorities at this time. Perhaps my hon. Friend could give an assurance that the Minister's statement will not be near the end of the year but as near as possible to the date of our return after the Summer Recess, so that we can get a move on with this matter and see that these horrible installations are got rid of, probably quicker than by doing it through this Bill. If we could have such an assurance, I would ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Mr. M. Stewart

The matter we have been discussing will not come by any means entirely new to the Parliamentary Secretary. There was the very striking speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) when she moved her Ten Minutes Rule Bill on this matter. The possibility of making use of this Bill for the purpose was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) during the Standing Committee. Thus, this new Clause is only the last of several indications that the Government have had.

It did not seem to me that the hon. Gentleman went anything like as far as the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) was asking for earlier. She was asking for at least a categorical assurance that a measure of this kind—'if this Clause were not accepted—would be included in the Queen's Speech for the next Session of Parliament. We have not got a categorical assurance about anything from the hon. Gentleman—no, I will correct that. We have not a categorical assurance of any legislative result. We have only an assurance that certain consultations will be undertaken.

Sir K. Joseph

Surely what I undertook on behalf of my right hon. Friend was that, if he decides, in the light of the evidence—from both points of view—that there is need far action, he will seek it in co-operation with the local authorities. Only if he does not get that cooperation will there be any need for legislative action.

Mr. Stewart

That is what I said. We have no categorical assurance of legislation such as requested by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth.

Dame Irene Ward

I think it only fair to point out that even I could hardly expect my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give an undertaking about putting legislation in the Queen's Speech. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that, having made these suggestions, we can get on with the job, and I believe that my hon. Friend means what he says—that if local authorities do not co-operate then legislation will follow. Perhaps he could expand that a little more and give a firmer assurance on that point, because, if I may say so, that part of his speech was a little weak.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Lady says that it would not be reasonable for her to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for an assurance about the Queen's Speech, but, reasonable or not, that is what she did earlier. We all heard her do it, some of us with some degree of enthusiasm.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that we must hear the other side of this question. I have reminded him that in the Standing Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East connected this subject with the Bill, and this new Clause itself has been on the Notice Paper for some days. I have not found that local authority associations are at all slow to express their views by letter to Members concerned when a Bill about which they have any worry or alarm is before Parliament.

Has the hon. Gentleman any positive reason for believing that the local authority associations object to this Clause? He said that they might. He did not give us to understand that he had received from any local authority or from any of the associations of local authorities any ground for objecting to the Clause. When he tried to put up reasons against the general idea of the Clause, that was really the weakest part of his speech, and I am sure that he is aware of that himself.

Surely it will not be suggested that a turnstile, as distinct from another means of entry, is essential for the provision of privacy, decency and cleanliness. Indeed, it may well militate against cleanliness. It cannot possibly be maintained that without a turnstile one cannot make sure that the place is clean and decent. The Parliamentary Secretary got nowhere on that line of argument.

Moreover, there was one course of action about which he was weaker than he need have been. He said that the right hon. Gentleman would ask local authorities not to erect turnstiles, pending the discussions which are to be held. But why the weak word "ask"? The Parliamentary Secretary himself pointed out that loan sanction was needed. Why should not the Minister say that he would not grant loan sanction?

Sir K. Joseph

I will give the answer straight away. Pending the results of this survey, my right hon. Friend will not give loan sanction for any public convenience scheme involving turnstiles. I did not say that before, because the hon. Member could legitimately have said that some local authorities might spend their own money, in which case they would not need loan sanction. That is why I used the word "ask", but I include refusal to grant loan sanctions pending the result of the inquiry.

Mr. Stewart

That is a valuable addition and it makes me feel that I have not lived in vain, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) must be feeling this morning.

We now have both things. If the authorities try to do it in a way which needs loan sanction, they will be flatly told, "No." If they try to do it in a way which does not need loan sanction, they will be asked not to do so. As an immediate administrative action that is satisfactory. But, in view of some of the things said from the Government Front Bench this week, whether any local authority will be erecting anything in the course of the next eight months is another matter.

It was the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth who said that the hon. Gentleman's rather weak answer did not go as far as she wanted. There were three courses of action which could have been taken more quickly than that which the Parliamentary Secretary proposes. He could have told the Committee that he would accept the new Clause. He could have told us that the Government would provide facilities for securing the passage of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). Or he could have followed the suggestion, originally made by his hon. Friend, and said that a measure of this kind would be mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I find it disturbing that none of those three things has appealed to him.

Mrs. Castle

In all sincerity, I say that I appreciate the spirit in which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke. It is clear that this debate has made an impact on him, and we hope that it will have left an indelible impression. However, it is not his motive but his method which I am querying, and I must say that I am profoundly disturbed.

Surely it is clear that we have all heard the other side of the case. The only argument in favour of the installation of turnstiles is that it saves money on the rates. Women are prevented from evading the impost of a penny by holding the door open for someone else—let us be crude about it—from holding open the door while two or three young toddlers go into the lavatory with their mother. Everyone now has to go through the turnstiles, and that is the openly avowed reason why local authorities have put them up. The wages of an attendant are also saved. But I repeat that that is violating the very principle which the Minister says he wants to secure.

It is intolerable for us to have to wait another moment to hear the other side of the case. This is a matter of principle which should be decided this morning and the question is which argument is paramount—the health and well-being of the women, or a small saving on the rates. That is what it boils down to when the Minister has made all his inquiries. I accept that he will treat the matter as urgent, but, however urgently it is treated, it will take until the end of the year before everybody has met and all the evidence has been collected, and so on. The Minister may then give local authorities guidance, which is all he can do unless he accepts the Clause or my Bill, whose purposes are to give him the power which he does not now have.

I appreciate that the Minister will refuse loan sanction and will accompany that refusal with a request, but beyond a certain point he is powerless, and mean. avaricious local authorities, callous and hardhearted, can get away with that. It is the callous bumbledom which we are trying to fight. It is not true that local authorities are not aware of the problem. My letters show that they have had representations time and again from local women's organisations and have turned a deaf ear to them. That being so, this morning we have a golden opportunity to give the Minister the power without which we cannot do this job.

12.45 p.m.

The good local authorities which want to respond will meet the argument that they should not take action when the authority down the road or across the river ignores the Minister's plea. Universality of action is what is needed, and the only way to ensure that we get it is to give the Minister power he does not now have. The Parliamentary Secretary wants us to wait until be has collected evidence and heard the other side of the case. We should not waste a moment on that. Secondly, when he has tried his powers of persuasion and they have failed, 'he will introduce legislation.

There will then be a period of twelve months following that legislation for local authorities to be given time to pull these obstacles down. It is because it is urgent that I am not prepared for the new Clause to be withdrawn—and my name appears in support of it. I do not say that in any spirit of hostility to the Parliamentary Secretary, but in an overriding spirit of urgency.

Dame Irene Ward

Will the Parliamentary Secretary clear up one point about legislation? He does not need to mention the Queen's Speech. He said that if the local authorities do not respond, he will introduce legislation, or accept the Bill of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who will not have time to get in on the Statute Book before the House rises, so that there will be legislation if the local authorities are obstinate. It would make the position clear if he would finalise what he said.

Sir K. Joseph

I hope that when the hon. Lady reads HANSARD she will find that I said just that. But I will repeat it. There are likely to be four stages. First, there will be inquiry and consultation. Secondly, my right hon. Friend will assess the position. Thirdly, if he decides that some action is necessary, he will seek the co-operation of the local authorities. Fourthly, if he does not get that cooperation—and that assumes that that co-operation will he within a time limit —I undertake that he will see to it that there is legislation.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is not intentionally misleading the Committee about what he said. As I understand, it is only if he is satisfied that there is a case for abolition that he gives the pledge to introduce legislation. The whole point of his thesis was that he must hear the other side before making up his mind. It should be quite clear that he is not giving a firm pledge to the Committee.

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Member has stated the position correctly.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), considered.